I understand the aversion to owning a dog. They cost a lot of money. They smell. They make other things smell. They bark. They take up a lot of time. Make it a puppy, and increase those things tenfold. I get it. None of these things is desirable. All of them were on my mind every time I told my wife, Vicky, that we had to wait a year before getting a dog. She wanted a puppy (real bad), and, since we had gotten married, she had managed to convince me to downgrade that waiting period to 6 months. So when I came home one Friday from work and she told me, “Aaron…I’ve been bad…”, I instantly, instinctively knew that she had been looking up puppies for sale.
After ensuring our budget could handle it, we ended up driving to Muskogee (about 2 hours away) that evening to pick up a miniature long-haired dachshund puppy. The woman selling her to us was a Pomeranian breeder, but a friend had given her a litter of dachshunds, so she was trying to sell them as quickly as possible before she ended up adopting them herself out of sheer inability to resist cuteness. We met the breeder in a Walmart parking lot, and she introduced us to our then-nameless pup, who cowered on the concrete, whining softly. We picked her up, cradling her in our arms in turn. There wasn’t an immediate click or connection; she didn’t jump up to lick our faces or run circles around our legs in excitement that night or the next day. In fact, she seemed kind of terrified of us for about 24 hours. But there it was, this tiny little creature that completely relied on us to take care of its every need and to protect it from all the big bad things out there in the world. My heart began melting right away. If my heart melts like that for a puppy, I can’t imagine how much it will melt when I hold my kids for the first time.
If she invaded my heart that quickly, it took her an equally short amount of time to piss me off. She peed and pooped inside all the time, barked at the littlest sound in the middle of the night, chewed up anything loose on the ground or hanging from furniture. She proved hard to train, because if we went to an obedience class she would bark at the other dogs and people. Anytime anyone would come over, she would act frightened of them, approaching them to sniff and lick them one second and then barking wildly at them the next. To top it all off, or rather bottom it all out, she constantly tried to eat her own poop. Which, ew.
But I couldn’t stay mad at her for more than about 5 seconds. If she did something wrong, I’d try telling her “NO” or “BAD DOG” in a stern voice, but she’d look up at me with those big doxie eyes, her floppy ears lowering out of shame or confusion or something pathetic deep inside her, and my heart would melt the same way it did when I first saw her. Of course, there were also all the times when she would get things right. When she ate all her food for the first time, learned how to climb the stairs to our bed, and stopped pooping and peeing in her crate- I couldn’t have been prouder. And the first time she went into her crate without being forced in or coerced with treats, she surprised me by walking in right when I said “Crate up”. If I felt that kind of pride for a puppy, I can’t imagine how proud I’ll feel when my kids accomplish even the smallest feats.
Her name is Winnie. We were trying to decide between Winnie and Dory for the first couple of days, and though it was a heated battle, Winnie won out in the end. She’s a spoiled dog, to be sure. She sleeps in our bed, follows us around the house, holds our laps hostage if we sit down anywhere, and lays across my shoulders when I sit on the couch. When we come home and let her out of the crate, Winnie’s whole body shakes with her wagging tail and she tries to jump up to lick our faces and she runs circles around our legs. I don’t think dogs have the capacity to feel the same love we do, but no matter what it is, it makes me feel necessary, crucial, important.
Winnie is still dependent on Vicky and me for everything. Obviously she needs us for food and water, but beyond that, she’s absolutely the tiniest dog ever, so she doesn’t feel safe unless she’s with us. She’s smart for a dog in that she’ll figure things out pretty quickly, but dumb because she’s a dog. She doesn’t know that she shouldn’t eat things like chocolate, so when her daddy (that’s me, btw) left chocolate on the end table next to the couch one night, Winnie decided to have herself a feast. She probably had less than an ounce, but when I walked into the room and saw her biting at the Hershey’s bar, I freaked out. Vicky and I immediately got online to see how much chocolate dogs could eat compared to their weight. Even after looking it up, we still weren’t positive, so we took the poor girl to the pet emergency room at 11 at night to get her stomach pumped. Winnie may have looked more pathetic at some other point, but not by much. If my stomach can twist in knots over the well-being of a puppy, I can’t imagine how much my heart will worry over the well-being of my kids.
I know she’s just a dog. I’m not delusional. Sure, I might love my dog more than the average pet owner. But, the way I look at it, she’s a gift from God. Winnie brings me happiness and joy in ways that only she can, and God uses her to teach me what to expect when Vicky and I have kids, how to die to myself in order to take care of something helpless, how to love unconditionally. I know very well that the love I feel for Winnie doesn’t compare to the love I’ll feel for our children someday. But it’s love all the same. And any love is worthwhile.